The Victorian Artificial Flower Makers

artificial-flowersOn the 1871 census, I noted that the commonest occupation was Artificial Flower maker / Artificial florist (24% of those with an occupation recorded).

2 are recorded as Artificial Florist rather then flower maker. Could this mean they were employers or retailers rather than the factory or home workers?

Looking at them individually, I found that they were are all from the same family, although now in 3 households.
I started looking in detail starting with my great-great grandfather:

Henry Alfred Pullum (b.1849)
In 1871, he was 21 years old, head of the household and his occupation was Artificial florist.
The household consisted of Himself, his wife Elizabeth Clara, who gave birth the next day and his sister-in-law (perhaps Clara was in labour)
His father had been apprenticed to a lanier (wool trade) but during this time ran away with his future wife, and at the time of his marriage was an artificial florist and remained so for the rest of his life. (Full story here)
Henry’s sister Jane had been an artificial flower maker by age 13 (1861).
Henry himself was an artificial florist at the time of his marriage in October 1870.
In 1881 both he and his wife were leaf makers (before and after he is still described in records as an artificial florist).
Aged 51 in 1901, a year before his death, he was still an artificial leaf maker on his own account (i.e not an employee) working at home.
These records suggest that he was working in poor circumstances. The addresses he lived at would also support this.
Evidence to the contrary is the concert organised by his friends in 1898 to help his failing business. (Full story here)

Thomas Slatter Pullum (b. 1846)
In 1871, he was aged 25 and a lodger in the household of a widowed beerhouse keeper (4 households at the same address). His occupation was Artificial Florist.
He is a brother of Henry Alfred Pullum.
He has no occupation recorded in 1861, when he aged 15, although his 13 year old sister was an artificial flower maker.
He died 3 years after the 1871 census aged 28.

William Pullum (b.1824)
In 1871, he was 47 and head of the household and his occupation was Artificial flower maker.
The household consisted of himself, his 2nd wife, 4 daughters (23, 13, 10 & 2 days),
and 3 sons (19 ,16 & 8).
All but the youngest 2 are recorded as artificial flower makers (it looks like the enumerator was about to write scholar for the 10 year old daughter but changed it).
William was the father of Henry Alfred & Thomas Slatter Pullum.
His first wife died when they were 15 and 19 respectively (the youngest child was aged 3).
As noted above, he had been apprenticed to a lanier (wool trade) but during this time ran away with his future wife. (Full story here)
At the time of his (first) marriage in 1844, he was an artificial florist.
William’s father’s occupation was milliner (sometimes recorded as haberdasher, laceman and wholesale milliner).
In 1891 (no 1881 census was found for William), he, his wife and 2 of the 3 children with them are all artificial florists.
In 1901 his occupation is recorded as a Traveller, artificial flowers (his wife and 2nd youngest daughter, now aged 26, are both artificial flower makers). He is on his own account, his wife and daughter workers, his wife at least at home. (The youngest daughter was in service).
He died in 1910 (predeceased by his wife).

The records could either suggest that William was a retailer of artificial flowers (i.e. similar to his father) with his family working for the family business,  (in 1851 there was a servant with the family) or that William and his family were poor and working in cramped conditions at home.
In 1891 and 1901, they are in 2 rooms in Bernales Buildings, Shoreditch an area described as poor to poorer in Booth’s Survey and 2 adjacent dwellings were closed in consequence of sanitary notices in 1905. This and the fact that William had 15 children (albeit with 2 wives) including 3 infant deaths (at least) suggest the latter was true.
All but 2 of his children were at sometime artificial flower makers.

So across the censuses analysed so far, the peak in Pullum artificial flower makers was on the 1871 census.artificial-florists-across-the-census
                                                                                                                                               click to enlarge

Beverly Seaton in her book “The Language of Flowers” says that “The French were particularly good at artificial flower making, as it had a long history of being an acceptable pastime for gentlewomen.”
The Huguenots were associated with silk making, which most artificial flowers were made of. William’s Grandmother was a Huguenot, and perhaps this was the reason for the occupation in the family.

However there is much more evidence that Victorian artificial flower makers were working under terrible conditions:

At the height of the trade, the 1891 census reported 4011 flower-makers in London.
( source: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/lost-art-flower-making) mr-lords-report

The trade was seasonal with a boom in spring.

The Children’s Employment Commission of 1862, in the Fourth Report of the Commissioners “reported to both houses of Parliament by command of her Majesty” contained Mr Lord’s Report on Artificial flower making. He found that factories would employ over a hundred flower-makers at a time, working between twelve and eighteen hours a day and that those assembling artificial flowers might start to do so from the age of eight.
ebook available

The report found:
comissioners-report-artificial-flower-makers

Also Mr Lord found in the course of his inquiry into the employment of milliners, that in some instances, the flowers used in that industry were made on the premises of the milliner. Milliner was another common occupation among the Pullums.

Many worked in factories but others worked at home.

In May 2016, The Museum of  London hosted a display “The Lost Art of Flower Making” which included this picture, showing the poor conditions of artificial flower makers working from home as late as 1910.artificial-flower-makers-1910

(Last updated 04.10.2016)